The EU decision to terminate the Operation Sophia represents its will to choose European Security approach while having agenda of Human Security approach in its European Neighborhood Policy.
On 17th February 2020, European Union (EU) foreign ministers decided to end Operation Sophia, formally known as European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EU NAVFOR Med), and launch a new maritime mission in the region which will enforce the United Nations (UN) arms embargo in and around Libya. The decision came just before the end of the mandate of the Operation Sophia on 31st March 2020. However, the decision to end Operation Sophia and replace it with arms embargo mission is influenced by the internal and external politics of Europe.
What is Operation Sophia
The EU NAVFOR MED (“Sophia”) mission was launched in 2015 as an EU’s response to curtail illicit human and arms trafficking in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with this, one of the tasks of the mission was to save the lives of vulnerable migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. In the last five years, the mission helped trained the Libyan coastguard and navy and helped implement a UN arms embargo off the coast.
The Unexpected Consequences of the Mission
Requested and endorsed by the Italian government and supported by the EU,Operation Sophia was supposed to be the military mission focusing on restraining human and arms smuggling from Northern Africa into Europe via the Mediterranean. However, mission transformed into a humanitarian mission saving the lives of the migrants at sea and transporting them safely in Europe. Consequently, the EU witnessed the undocumented inundation of migrants coming from Syria via Turkey, and many Africans taking the Libyan route in the hope to reach a safer place and attain a better life. The mission has rescued over 44,000 people at sea and made them reach safely in Southern Europe particularly in Italy.
The Rise of Discussions among the EU Member States
This was followed by the new discussion among EU Member States particularly among Italy, Austria and Hungary to tackle the rising number of migrants’ inflow. In April 2019, the then-Italian coalition government threatened the EU to veto the entire mission. The then-interior minister Matteo Salvini contended that the search and rescue ships employed in the mission are instigating the local migrants to use sea route and reach Italy. Austria also opposed the reviving of Operation Sophia in the past because of similar claims. As Austria has long been having tensions with Italy over the influx of migrants and refugees in Austria from Italy. Therefore, Austria also was in favor of the termination of the mission as it will indirectly help curtail the migration flow in Austria as well. Hence, in October 2019, the EU decided not to extend the mission after March 2020, and replace it with the mission solely focused on the arms embargo.
What is New About the New Operation
The idea is to shift the new operation further east, away from the usual water route used by migrants leaving Libya in search of better lives in Europe. EU believed that to better curtail arms movement, the mission has to focus more on the eastern side which is the epitome of the arms transfer. The eastern part of the country is the base of the self-styled Libyan National Army forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar. Khalifa Haftar, a former general in Gaddafi’s regime had fled to the US later becoming a CIA asset, returned to Libya in 2011 to lead the revolution. In recent years he has styled himself the leader of the Libyan National Army with the backing of the UAE, Egypt, France and Russia amongst others. On the other side of the checkerboard is the UN-recognized Tripoli-based Government of National Accord which is backed byQatar, Italy and the local militias. The Haftar forces are attacking the UN-recognized Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, which in turn is the major reason for the current ongoing conflict in Libya. Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. Fighting between the country’s factions has intensified over the past year.
With certain Member States backing Haftar and others backing GNA, the EU is in an imbroglio. As a result, the Union lacks a clear policy and will to deal with the crisis. While the EU contends that the new mission proceeding Operation Sophia will confine the flow of arms from Libya and its neighborhood, it has also been argued that the EU’s monitoring only by air will weaken the position of the mission and will favor the Haftar’s coup attempt. This will result in an increase in civilian casualties, destruction and more civilian displacement.
Human Security approach vs European Security approach
Argyro Kartsonaki and Stefan Wolff in their article named “The EU’s Responses to Conﬂicts in its Wider Neighborhood: Human or European Security?” have defined two types of the EU Security Strategy in European Neighborhood Policy (ENP): the Human Security approach and European Security approach. The Human Security approach embarks upon the increasingly humanitarian interventionist foreign policies, a focus on development, stable government, restructuring judiciary, combat terrorism and organized crime as part of security policy. The aim is to make the country under discussion stable in the long-term. The policy has been defined as the core of the European Security Strategy of the Council of the European Union in its all upcoming civilian and military missions under CSDP. Whereas, the European Security approach is about maximizing security for the EU and its citizens and member states. In terms of the EU’s foreign and security policy, this can be understood as the pursuit of EU internal security objectives with foreign policy tools employed on the conflict in ENP. The most frequent security threats identiﬁed covered under the European Security are international terrorism, transnational organized crime and illegal migration. The authors of the article did the empirical study of the EU civilian and military missions in the ENP and reach to the conclusion that the Union’s response to most of the conflicts is in line with a human security approach thus focusing on the long-term goals of ensuring stability, peace and prosperity in the ENP.
While this is true in most of the CSDP missions launched by the EU, however, it has been observed that EU has always been keen on taking the European Security approach especially in the conflicts where its own interests are at stake. Beset by the migration crisis, and upsurge of the right-wing politics, the EU seems to have the urge to choose the European Security approach to deal with the crisis while having the policy of employing the human security approach. The decision to replace Operation Sophia with the new mission represents the quintessential short-term policy focusing more on resolving the EU’s internal political impasse as compared to dealing with the external crises. The decision suits the Italian government as it will take away the coalition-government of Italy to criticize the mission and call it as a “pull factor”. It has given Italy the chance to be seen to play a leading part in expanding Sophia’s capabilities, by deploying Italian satellites and aircraft to support the mission. On the other side of the Mediterranean, this can risk the increase in the arms trafficking at the Mediterranean and strengthen Haftar’s status in Libya. The current decision represents the EU’s short-sightedness as its security policy in Libya seems driven by interests, not by norms and values.